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Make an Awesome Novel Study Guide

Speaking of letting them lead, we were supposed to round out our literature year with Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater.  We were all set to read it, having finished The Story of Dr. Dolittle.  Then my Littles surprised and humbled me once more by asking, “Mama, can we read The Hobbit instead?”

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I was raised on The Hobbit.  Tolkien was a household hero.  So for my Littles to actually request the book made me nothing short of ecstatic.  I wanted them to really get the full effect of the novel–light (good) versus dark (evil), and secret maps, lost treasures, fantastic characters and courage beyond imagining.  So this called for no ordinary study guide.

IMG_20150421_092911738It called for this.  Not just a folder or binder with some notebooking pages and worksheets thrown in, but a study guide that made them feel like part of the adventure.  So the first thing I did was Google a map of Middle Earth and Thorin’s map showing the way to the Lonely Mountain.  I printed them out and we tea-stained them to make them look old.  We also tea-stained a bunch of lined paper and some worksheets we would be using.  I got out my handy-dandy woodburner and burned the edges of the maps and of the folders (in this case, I three-hole punched manilla folders because they were already the right color), and the Littles glued their maps of Middle Earth to the front.

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We glued Thorin’s map into the inside cover.  That way as the company travels to the Lonely Mountain, we can follow their path on both maps.  We used binder rings to add the notebooking paper and worksheets to the folder because I’ve found they are easier to use than brads when you’re dealing with these types of folders.

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We didn’t have a lot of worksheets for this guide, but I love to have them keep a character list, especially for books with this many characters.  (I mean, the awesome thing about The Hobbit is that there are pretty much 15 main characters.  15.  Sure, some of the dwarves and even Gandalf get relegated to minor characters throughout the book, but you still have to keep them straight in your head.)  I made this simple worksheet, we tea-stained it and burned the edges… Voila–a worksheet that fits our theme.

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As usual, we mostly use this folder for answering daily questions about our reading and doing fun writing exercises like making up dialogues between two characters who don’t ever really speak in the book.  The Littles enjoy it more when they know they helped create such a cool place to keep their work.  And Littlest Cannot Wait till we’re done reading so he can use his maps for play.  With only 2 weeks of school left, he doesn’t have long.

Making this kind of study guide is easy and fun and adaptable to almost any adventure story.  In fact, we did one for Robinson Crusoe two years ago that was made to look like a journal.  If I can dig one out, I’ll take a pic and post it for you later in the week.  In the meantime, keep making literature fun!

Love wins,

KT

Midway through National Reading Month

You may or may not know that March is National Reading Month.  Of course, you know the Lit Mama, Every month is National Reading Month at my house.  But March is a great time, beginning with the celebration of Dr. Seuss’s birthday on the 2nd, to encourage littles to get in the reading habit.

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This month encourages us to remember the value and joy of shared reading, of reading alone, of utilizing our libraries, and of trying a new genre or author.

There are a great many activities to celebrate National Reading Month.  Here are just a few:

1. Visit your local library each week and pick up new books for your littles to enjoy.

2. If you don’t already do so, pick a chapter book and read aloud with your littles for fifteen minutes a day.

3. Hold a book club with your littles, assigning a set number of chapters for each week followed by a discussion of the chapters at week’s end.

4. Set up a contest where the little who reads the most books by the end of the month wins a prize–a fancy bookmark, a book light, or a new book.

5. Pick books with settings in different countries and have a ”read around the world” month.

6. Find an appropriate audiobook to listen to in the car while running errands.

7. For older littles, break out your old picture books and have a carefree day of easy reading!

8. For those not yet reading, use picture books to have fun phonics lessons and letter recognition.

9. Donate well-loved books to less fortunate children so they have the same opportunities to learn and explore your littles have had.

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If you do a Google search, you’ll soon find that there are other months designated as National Reading Month–National Family Reading Month in May, National Book Club Reading Month in October…. Actually, I saw stuff for just about every month.  I like March because of the Seuss tie-in (honestly, who truly does not like Green Eggs and Ham?).  But you could just follow our lead and make every month National Reading Month.  Your littles will be better off for it and even two weeks of reading aloud 15 minutes a day can lead to a habit.

Celebrate reading.  Remind your littles there’s nothing better in the whole world.  All hail the Great Seuss.  And if you have any other ideas about how to recognize Reading Month, please share them with me.

Love wins,

KT

Teaching Poetry in Your Homeschool

All you have to do is look at my homepage–at the lovely poem by Hafiz that stands front and center–to know that I love poetry.  It is among my favorite forms of expression.  How else to describe beauty in so few words?  Poetry can have the power of a photograph–depicting a scene so vividly you can see it, simply because of words.  Narrating a story so succinctly that to read it is like watching a film.  Portraying an emotion that overwhelms the reader as if she were feeling it herself.  No wonder the epic poems of Homer, Virgil, and Dante have been handed down for so many hundreds of years.

Teaching poetry in your homeschool can be a daunting challenge, especially if you dislike or are intimidated by poetry yourself.  However, breaking it down into simple, understandable steps can make it easy on you and fun for your students.  Here are some ideas that can help.

Copywork

When the Littles were still learning handwriting, we started every morning with copywork.  I would write a seasonal poem on the chalkboard, and they would copy it down.  Once they had copied it, we would go through the poem line by line until they understood it.  Sometimes we used simple poems, like those in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, sometimes we would copy poems from the greats–Longfellow, Keats, Dickinson.  Robert Frost has several lilting poems that are perfect for the winter months and easy to translate into phrasing young people can understand.

Poetry for Children

Believe it or not, a great way to introduce your children to poetry is through Any of Dr. Seuss’s books.  Green Eggs and Ham provides a child’s first look at rhyme and meter.  My favorite (and in my opinion, the most brilliant) poet for young people is, of course, Shel Silverstein.  What child can resist a poem called “How Not to Have to Dry the Dishes?”

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(Such an awful, boring chore)

If you have to dry the dishes

(‘Stead of going to the store)

If you have to dry the dishes

And you drop one on the floor–

Maybe they won’t let you

Dry the dishes anymore.

Again, a great and entertaining way to learn about meter and rhyme.  And Silverstein’s books are full of such uproarious poems.  The Littles get them out and read them for fun, never realizing that they are learning what a rhyming poem looks like.

Another superb poet for children is Jack Prelutskey.  I love A Cow’s Outside:

 

         A cow’s outside is mainly hide,

        undoubtedly this leather

        retains a cows insides inside,

        and holds a cow together

 

 

Simply having your children read a selection of these poems and then asking them to mimic them is a great introduction to poetry.

 Language

The most important aspect of poetry is language.  The ‘poetic device.’ Poets are limited in the tools they can use.  They have only Words with which to convey an image, idea, or feeling.  So they have to use the right words, every time.  An introduction to this idea might contain lessons on alliteration and assonance–the repeated sounds of consonants or vowels, respectively.  Onomatopoeia–words that sound like their meanings such as tick, hiss, and gurgle–is one of my favorite poetic devices, and one that littles can have a lot of fun with.  Hyperbole (the outrageous exaggeration of something) can provide a lot of laughter, too.  Metaphors and similes are some of the most important and oft-used devices by poets from all eras.  Personification is also a good language activity to get students’ poetic juices flowing: “The vase stood still until I knocked it off the sill.”  Vases don’t stand; that is personifying.  A great web page to get you started is at Education Portal.

Different Types of Poems

The following poems are far from the many various types to be learned.  They are fun, simple ways to start teaching your students to write their own poetry.  You can get into free verse and sonnets later. 🙂

Acrostic–Uses a word going vertically down the page as the first letter in each horizontal line.  For example:

Littles run round my house

Over and under like a mouse

Valiantly battling deadly foes

Ever erasing all my woes

Diamante–This style has seven lines arranged in a certain structure. It starts out describing one thing and ends up describing another.

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Haiku–Haiku consists of 3 lines and 17 syllables.  Lines 1 and 3 have five syllables and line 2 has seven syllables.  They do not have to rhyme, but a fun challenge can be rhyming lines 1 and 3.

The sky is so blue.

The sun is so warm up high.

I love the summer.

Cinquain–This consists of five unrhymed lines, with each line containing a certain number of syllables.

Line 1: 2 syllables

Line 2: 4 syllables

Line 3: 6 syllables

Line 4: 8 syllables

Line 5: 2 syllables

Limerick–This style has 5 lines with lines 1, 2, and 5 rhyming and lines 3 and 4 rhyming.  It usually starts with “There was a…” and ends with a name, place, or person. Lines 1, 2, and 5 should have 7-10 syllables and lines 3 and 4 should have 5-7 syllables.  The last line should be a little farfetched.

There was an Old Man of Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket.
His daughter, called Nan,
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

When you use these tools for learning both reading and writing poetry, the idea of it suddenly becomes much less intimidating.  Breaking it down into simple lessons makes it a pleasurable (even funny) experience your children will truly enjoy.

What about you?  What ways have you introduced poetry into your homeschool?

Love wins,

KT

Those Everlasting Tucks (or Using Good Description)

If, like me, you use your children’s reading experiences to enhance their writing, there is no better book to showcase good description than Tuck Everlasting.  Natalie Babbit tells her tale of a family who accidentally drank from a spring of eternal youth with such eloquence that the story seems to float along on a dry, August wind.

Which is just what she intends.  Writing with intention is one of the best lessons a student can learn, and Tuck Everlasting is one of the best books to illustrate the idea.  Let me give you an example from the prologue:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning.  The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autum, but the first week of Autumn is motionless, and hot.  It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color.

Wow.  Sure, we’ve felt that in the first week of August, even noticed it, but how many of us could describe it so vividly in so few words?  I am fascinated by the idea of that week being like the car poised at the top of the Ferris wheel, and the Littles and I discussed it for, oh, about twenty minutes.  It is a rare pleasure for an author to ensconce you so deeply in her setting so quickly.  Just reading and discussing that description can help your student imagine interesting ways to describe things in his own work.  Here’s another, from chapter 9.

The pastures, fields, and scrubby groves they crossed were vigorous with bees, and crickets leapt before them as if each step released a spring and flung them up like pebbles.  But everything else was motionless, dry as a biscuit, on the brink of burning, hoarding final reservoirs of sap, trying to hold out until the rain had returned.

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Can’t you just hear the grass crunching underfoot?  See the swarms of gnats hovering at eye level?  This is what we want to teach our students–to evoke even more images by writing about just a few.  There are lots of way to teach descriptive writing, including lessons on metaphors and similes, using specific, strong words, and, of course, showing and not telling.  But nothing can teach good description better than seeing it in action.

There’s a reason Tuck Everlasting is just as popular today as it was forty years ago.  The idea of living forever is appealing but, as Babbit demonstrates, comes at a price.  The novel helps children understand a little about death and why it is necessary and even about how life should be lived to the fullest because the reality is we have a limited time on Earth.  Guided reading has afforded us with so many conversations that I’m kind of feeling like this is the best book we’ll read this year.  The real reason it’s still so popular and intriguing is that it is so well-written.  The words are beautiful.  It’s as though Babbit took each individual word, stuck it in her mouth, sucked on it, and savored it before putting it to the page.  By doing so, she tells part of the story without words–she puts it in our minds more even than a film would.

If you have a child who struggles writing descriptions, read Tuck Everlasting with her.  Pause every time your heart wells up (and it will) with the amazing feelings evoked by Babbit’s descriptions.  Discuss what she means by her words, how it makes you feel, and see if your student can come up with other colorful ways to phrase the description.  I promise you, it will help.

And, heck, even if I’m wrong, no one should trade the reading of this invaluable book for watching it on film or stage.  There is pure joy in the pages, in the author’s love of language, that just doesn’t translate.

Love wins,

KT